ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Democrat U.S. Rep. Mary Sattler Peltola was leading in first-choice votes after early returns were posted Tuesday night, with 87,000 ballots counted and thousands still left to be tallied.
Peltola had 45% of first-choice votes. Under Alaska’s new ranked choice voting system, results aren’t final until a candidate has garnered more than 50% of votes. If the leading candidate doesn’t cross that threshold, the winner will be determined by second- and third-choice votes, which will be tallied by election officials on Nov. 23.
Republican former Gov. Sarah Palin led fellow Republican Nick Begich III in early vote counts. Palin was in second place with 28% of first-choice votes to Begich’s 24.8%. Libertarian Chris Bye trailed with 2% of first-choice votes and was expected to be the first candidate eliminated if the race comes down to a ranked choice tabulation.
In the three-way special election held in August, Peltola garnered 40% of first-choice votes, Palin got 31% and Begich got 28.5%. After ranked-choice votes were tabulated, Peltola won with 51.5% of votes to Palin’s 48.5%.
In the special election, around 30% of Begich’s supporters ranked Peltola, the Democrat, second. It’s an outcome Begich has taken steps to avoid repeating, including running ads attacking Peltola as an ally of national Democratic leadership figures.
After winning the August special election, Peltola got a significant boost in national attention and campaign contributions that translated to widespread name recognition. It also put a target on her back. Peltola went from having the least money of the three candidates to having a multi-million dollar lead over her opponents in fundraising.
The first Alaska Native elected to Congress, Peltola earned support from across the political spectrum, including from Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and former staffers of Republican Rep. Don Young, whose March death triggered the special election. On the left, Peltola had the backing of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Palin and Begich emphasized in the final weeks of their campaign the “rank the red” message meant to encourage their supporters to rank both Republicans on the ballot in an effort to overtake Peltola. But Begich’s family connection to Democrats stopped some of Palin’s supporters from ranking him second, despite an endorsement from the Alaska Republican Party.
Palin’s unorthodox campaign strategy — which included leaving the state in the final days of the campaign — and celebrity antics kept some of Begich’s supporters from ranking Palin second, despite her endorsements from former President Donald Trump and many of his allies on the national stage.